Fine Tunes #22

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I was drawn to this aphorism by a letter published on p.11 of our February double-zero issue, under the title "Unfulfilled Expectations." In it, reader Harvey Bodashefsky bemoaned our December '99 cover story on a Yamaha desktop receiver, the @Pet RP-U100, which he feels "looks like a plastic air purifier!" He chides us for taking it seriously: "Stereophile is supposed to be a high-end journal, not PC Magazine or Stereo Review's Sound & Vision....A magazine cover should grab your attention, make you do a double take, and entice you to pick it up." And maybe even write a letter?

Another apothegm that comes to mind is "You just can't win." But I'm of the opinion that we all can win, and win big. How so? Let's consider the Bodashefsky Effect. Why in the world did we take the Yamaha @Pet seriously enough for JA to audition it, measure it, and slap that bad boy on our cover?

First of all, we're trying for a better/different/less exclusive balance in our equipment reports. For every review by one of our intrepid writers of a cutting-edge, ultra-expensive component, we want to offer a review of something entry-level or relatively affordable—not to mention everything in between. We need to be as relevant as possible to the greatest number of readers: It's a big world. Audio magazine has just gone belly up, and there are still masses of music-lovers out there who don't have a clue about the High End, or about how wonderful music reproduction can be in the home.

As we have said several times in recent issues regarding the direction of Stereophile in 2000 and beyond, if it's about music, we're interested. Two-, five-, 10-, or 12-channel—we'll be there. For example, in the same issue in which Mr. Bodashefsky's letter appeared, you'll find Kalman Rubinson's ruminations on a surround-for-music Meridian system. And in coming months we'll be doing more multichannel reviews. Even as we continue to fully support our traditional two-channel music-loving audience, Stereophile will report on what else is happening out there in the world, and with recorded music. However, if there's a picture associated with a particular system or recording, it's over to one of our sister publications: Stereophile Guide to Home Theater or Home Theater.

It's often been asked where the next generation of audiophiles is coming from. Don't most younger people think of music as so much sonic wallpaper—barely there during video games, only there there when watching a movie, or getting dizzy dancing in a club?

Here's a story I heard from Brian Morris, Linn's Man in America. He was traveling on a train and struck up a conversation with a bright young lad looking forward to his first year at Princeton. At some point he asked Brian what he did for a living. Brian told him can guess the rest: "Really? What's 'hi-fi'?" Argh!

In my view, it's up to all of us to educate and inform those who have no idea just how wonderful high-end audio can be. Stereophile is in a position to do something about that, and putting the Yamaha @Pet on the cover is just such a move. For instance: A lot of people spend huge amounts of time on their computers. The tinkly, chaffy bilge farting out of most computer speakers doesn't make much of an impression on anyone, never mind your typical busy-as-a-beaver audiophile. Is it possible to eat your computer music cake and have it too? Read the Yamaha review and find out.

Again: If it's about quality sound reproduction, we'll be there looking into it. In fact, to this end, JA is currently evaluating Digital Audio Labs' CarDDeluxe, a high-performance soundcard for your computer. (Sacrilege! Incoming!)

It should be no surprise, then, that I strongly disagree with John Marks's well-argued and interesting "As We See It" in the March Stereophile. John suggests that we "take a vacation from trying to make converts, and instead turn our attention to building up the community we claim to belong to. If the high-end audio community is attractive and rewarding to belong to, the converts will come."

No one will come if they don't know we exist. While I agree that we should stop carping at each other and build Fine Audiophile Fellowship, I also think it's incumbent on all of us to make every effort to share our passion with others. Kathleen and I never tire of plopping newbies into the Ribbon Chair and playing them something wonderful that, more often than not, leaves them stunned and captivated. Hey, some don't care, and start chattering almost immediately, but others get the message—deeply—and want it for themselves.

Dealers must make themselves more relevant and "value-added." They must work harder to educate their customers, especially in this brave new world. Stereophile must reach out to attract new readers, younger folks who are unaware of or intimidated by this seemingly "foreign" world. We all must reach out to music-lovers who have no clue about what it is we do and why we care about it so much.

Then again, I agreed with John Marks most vociferously when, in that same "As We See It," he asked one and all to "Celebrate products—and, especially, systems—that deliver exceptional value for the money." That's why Our Man Chip Stern is beavering away at a series of integrated amplifiers, and why he'll also soon bring you word of the NAD Music System, a receiver/CD player that comes packaged with PSB speakers. Plunk'n'play!

We can't afford to stick our heads in the sands of time—it's change or die in 2000 and beyond. And Stereophile will be there, informing, educating, and entertaining our readers right into the next century.

Stay tuned!